“I don’t have the cash on hand,” said the buyer. Apparently he knew the rules. “You going to be around?”
“I be here, my man. I be here. But don’t you wait too long. First come, first serve.”
“I hear you.”
The white buyer and the black scalper shook hands in that funky way hip guys do—I was never able to master it myself—and parted company. A moment later, Chopper was gliding down the avenue asking each and every stationary individual he passed, “You lookin’ for tickets?”
It’s a misdemeanor to scalp tickets in Minnesota, but mostly the law goes unenforced. As for building security, if you conduct your business off arena and stadium property, they usually leave you alone. Chopper had never been arrested or rousted; I doubt anyone wanted to be seen hassling a thin black man in a wheelchair. On the other hand, this was still a new enterprise for Chopper, the latest in a long list of profitmaking ventures, and he hadn’t been at it long enough to get busted.
Game time was 2:00 P.M., but Chopper continued to sell until nearly 2:30. Once the sidewalks around Target Center became empty, Chopper spun his chair around and started wheeling north on First Avenue. I waited for him. He was only a few yards away when he saw me.
“Fuckinay, McKenzie. How you doin’, man?”
“Hanging in, hanging in,” I told him and shook his hand.
“I was just talkin’ ’bout you.”
“I know. Lantry told me. What are you doing, telling people I saved your life? I didn’t save your life.”
“You did.” He seemed distressed that I would deny it.
“All I did was call the paramedics. They saved your life.”
“That ain’t the way I ’member it.”
“You way too modest, McKenzie. That’s one of your problems. You don’t never take credit.”
“Have it your own way.”
Chopper had never been what fashion magazines might called “full bodied,” even during his days running girls in Frogtown, but up close he seemed distressingly thin. I had to ask him, “You’re not on the pipe, are you?”
“Fuck. You know I don’t do that shit.”
“You look awfully skinny, Chopper. Have you been eating regularly?”
“We talkin’ food or pussy?” Chopper laughed at his own joke. When he finished, he said, “This is the new me. Mean and lean, baby.”
“Maybe so, but you should come over one of these days. I’ll give you a meal, fix you right up.”
“You gonna make that Texas chili you had that one time?”
“Cuz that was the best shit I ever had.”
“Compliments are always appreciated, Chopper. In the meantime, you’re making me nervous. I’ve seen anorexic models with more meat on their bones. Let’s get something to eat.”
“I ain’t hungry, man. You hungry?”
“As a matter of fact, I am.”
The hostess at the Loon Cafe sat us at a table by a window, giving us a good view of the traffic on Fifth Street. Chopper decided to order a little something. Just to be polite, he said. He ate quickly, devouring an order of calamari in jalape?o tartar sauce, a Chinese chicken salad, a ten-ounce rib-eye, coleslaw, a sixteen-ounce Leinenkugel Honey Weiss, and half my fries like famine was imminent and the old axiom “He who eats the fastest eats the mostest” was now the first law of survival.
Again I worried about him. He saw it in my eyes and laughed out loud.
“Man, you like the Chinese. Think you save a brother’s life, you’re responsible for ‘im. I’m fine. Lost a little weight is all, rollin’ up and down the avenues, engagin’ in free trade. Man, I’m a free trader.”
“How is business?” I asked.
“Now that I’m online, man, it’s like printin’ Washingtons.”
“Got’s my own Web site—ticketchopper.com. I sell through eBay sometimes, too. You lookin’ for Dixie Chicks in Vancouver, the Boss in Chi-town, Mavericks in Dallas, I’m your man.”
“I’m global. Got brothers all over waitin’ in line at ticket offices, pay ’em fifty dollars, whatever, for a couple hours of work buyin’ for me—that’s where I get most of my tickets. Also get from TicketMaster, get from a pool of brokers I’m tight with—I resell ’em. Serious money, man. Got three-fifty for a pair to see the Stones last week cost me sixty-six-fifty each.”
“What are you doing outside Target Center, then?”
“Same-day tickets, man, Internet ain’t worth shit. You gotta be out there with the people. Gotta have the product in hand. Team like the Minnesota Wild in the playoffs, man, wait ’til thirty minutes before game time, I get one-eighty for a sixty-two-fifty ticket. More if they playin’ good.”
Chopper carelessly took a long pull of beer.
“Fillin’ a need,” he added, beer dribbling down his chin. “Givin’ the people what they want.”
“Chopper, you’re a true entrepreneur. Bill Gates would be proud.”
“Damn straight. Hey, man, you lookin’ for tickets? I’ll take care of you. You like them jazz guys, like that Wynton Marsalis, like that Harry Connor—”